In this blog, Kerryn Humphreys at Countryside Jobs Service introduces four main types of volunteering to help people start their career.
Volunteering can give your career a great boost, and can be an excellent starting point for those at the beginning of their professional journey. But what are the options for volunteering, and which would suit you?
Traditionally within the conservation sector taking on a long-term (6-12 month) full-time placement was the entry point for many jobs. These voluntary positions are pretty much a ‘job’ with all the roles and responsibilities that come with employment but with substantial backup to ease you in, support you in all that’s required and gradually, as you become familiar with the requirements and organisational protocols, step back and let you fly solo.
There has been an increase in the same sort of roles but offered on a part-time, fixed commitment, usually of one or two days a week or even a week a month depending on the requirements of the host organisation. These provide similar experiences but are not quite as fully immersive, limiting opportunities but still allowing you to show interest and commitment to the subject.
Occasional volunteering is just that, an odd day here and there, helping at events, signing up to assist with fieldwork or running surveys, for example. This is completely flexible and what and how you do it is entirely up to you. The potential to learn is limited both by time and that you only have the opportunity to work on one specific task, but nonetheless it still adds experience to your CV and if you do many different days with different groups you’ll gather quite a range of knowledge and connections.
The last type is micro-volunteering, which ranges from a minute or two signing a petition to a few hours helping out by moderating social media. This is completely flexible in both time and often location, with many projects being run online. In 2020, volunteers transcribed 130 years’ worth of handwritten rainfall observations from the Met Office archives completing several months’ work in just 16 days.
The benefits of all levels and types of volunteering are manifold. Melanie Rendle of The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) says: “The most important thing we hear from volunteers is that the experience has given them a sense of being part of something worthwhile, a sense of wellbeing and a feeling of having made a positive impact.”
However, there is still one major problem, especially for the longer-term roles. The prospect of months with no wages is not an enticing one for anyone and for many people is daunting or simply not possible at all. Not everyone can commit to a full-time unpaid role. Many organisations are very aware of this and offer a range of flexible opportunities to work around other commitments. Some offer longer-term placements on slightly less than full-time hours, allowing volunteers to take on paid work either in a small non-specialist role within the same organisation or outside. Many of the more remote nature reserves are connected with local hospitality (for their visitors) and they frequently have flexible opportunities for work, bringing in much needed funds. Emma Parker, now a Ranger at Hopetoun House, addressed this issue in her article: When the advice is “Volunteer!” how do you live?”
Despite this, volunteering is still a wonderful way to start your career. Helen Pitman, Wilder Blean Landscape Development Manager at Kent Wildlife Trust, says:
“I studied conservation and animal biology at university, which was great but I wanted to get a feel for what working in conservation was really like, so I volunteered throughout my degree at wildlife centres, community groups and eventually for WWF [World Wide Fund for Nature]. I did everything from collating data in BioBlitz sessions to monitoring crocodiles and organising fundraising events. This gave me a real taste for the variety of work you can do as a conservationist. From that volunteering, I got my first paid job with WWF and have now been working in conservation for nearly 20 years!”
KWT Volunteer Trainees on a Chainsaw Course
(Photo: Kent Wildlife Trust)
This is a guest blog written by Kerryn Humphreys at Countryside Jobs Service, for the Green Careers Hub.
Image credits: Shutterstock and Kent Wildlife Trust